60 years of Fifes and Drums ring in Memorial Day weekend


The sun was shining bright Saturday afternoon as the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums celebrated its 60th anniversary with a march from the Capitol Building to the Market Square.

The march was part of a weekend of reunion events, with former members traveling from across the country to take part in the festivities.

The Fifes and Drums started in 1958, when four area teenagers were recruited by Colonial Williamsburg to form a simple fife and drum unit. Since then, the group has become an area institution, with a 1,000-member-strong alumni association and some 120 former members traveling back to Williamsburg for the march.

James Teal, one of the group’s two original drummers, said he drove five hours from his home in northern Delaware to be part in the reunion.

“Our first performance was July 4, 1958, so that’s our heritage,” Teal said. “This is truly a 60th anniversary for me and the other three guys. I’m here because I love this, I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”

The four Fifes and Drums Corps marching in the event spanned generations, with many joining the group as teenagers and developing a lifelong appreciation for the colonial militia instruments.

John Adkins, 17, has been a member of the Fife and Drums for seven years. He said he was immediately enamoured by the group at 5 years old when he first saw them perform, and that it was special to see so many former members playing again.

“It’s nice to know that, outside of your immediate family, you can always come home to your Fifes and Drums family,” Adkins said. “That’s definitely been shown this weekend. Everyone’s been super nice and gracious and it’s amazing.”

Thomas Cooke started with the Fifes and Drums in 1998 and played in the group until 2006. He says he made the trip from his home in South Carolina to catch up with childhood friends.

“We’ve got multiple decades of people here that come back, and it’s very cool to come back and be with the people that you grew up with,” said Cooke. “We start in fifth grade and go all the way up to the end of high school, so I’ve known a lot of these guys for many years.”

Locals and tourists visiting the area for Memorial Day weekend lined Duke of Gloucester Street in anticipation of the march.

Keith Simmons, a member of the Navy stationed in Maryland, said he made the trip with his family to see a unique aspect of colonial military history first-hand.

“We have our two little girls here today, so hopefully they’ll get to see something unique that they’ll remember and hopefully stick with them,” Simmons said. “We want them to want to come back someday with their families.”

Mary Ann Stuart agreed, saying she was surprised to see all the former members returning for the performance.

“I’m just impressed because it was such a fantastic program that all these alumni came back and they had to have two corps here,” Stuart said.

Teal says the march was a resounding success, with the large number of beating drums and melodic fifes reminding him of the instruments’ colonial origins.

“Today was just fantastic, I love rattling windows,” said Teal. “If you think about it, fifes and drums were communications mechanisms in the 18th century, they could be heard over gunfire for miles and miles, so I’m sure today, people heard us all the way in Newport News.”

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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